[EXCLUSIVE] The Drums’ Jonny Pierce Talks New Beginnings And Making It Personal
The Drums have gone through plenty over the years — from exploding into the scene as one of America’s most hyped bands to turning into a one man band. Even with all the ups and downs, nothing is stopping Jonny Pierce from creating music and expressing himself in his tracks.
We caught up with Jonny about the band’s biggest transformation yet, and why he feels The Drums’ music has become more personal.
How did the name The Drums come about?
I’ve always had a natural tendency to go against the status quo. When the band started, most indie bands that were starting had really eccentric band names like Animal Collective or And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, and names like that, and since my approach was to offer indie music that was more simplistic and straightforward, from a pop perspective, I thought a simple, classic name like The Drums would suit us. Ironically, at the time — and all the way up to Brutalism (The Drums’ fifth studio album), I used my own sampled drums and did not record with a traditional drum kit.
Who would you consider your muse and where does inspiration usually come from?
I don’t really have heroes, or muses. I would say that when I started, I really wanted to sound like a mix of European indie rock, like all the bands coming out of Sweden at the time like The Tough Alliance and Boat Club and I wanted to fuse that with American ’60s girl group sounds — like the Supremes. I did not end up sounding as I intended, but I ended up somewhere accidental — and it worked. I think my greatest hope for music is accidents. Accidents are my inspiration.
What do you think is the most important thing about songwriting and what makes a really good song?
Well, when I started making music, it was really important to me to have huge memorable classic pop melodies in each song. I once wrote on my wall above my workstation in black marker “HOW GOOD IS YOUR CHORUS?”. It was all about creating something that sounded undeniable. That approach worked for me for a while, but what I’ve realized over the years is that I was hiding behind my melodies and my sounds and my ‘persona’ and I wasn’t really being honest about who I was in my work. Now, as the years have passed, I’ve learned that the best songs are the ones that are meaningful. Ones that connect us by way of feelings, emotions, life experiences, and the joy and sometimes trauma that come from those experiences.
How do you think your sound has evolved throughout the years?
The first time I picked up a guitar was for The Drums. Before that, I had a very strict electronics-only way of creating. I was really into techno, synth pop, and house music — even Drum n’ bass. I would say that my guitar playing with The Drums was my greatest experiment. So I started the process of recording a band without really having a band at the time and I did it all with no expert help. This was before Garage Band and all of that so it was kind of daunting. That’s why those first few albums have a poor sonic quality, but end up being perfectly acceptable, charming, and kind of timeless. I think there is a power in not knowing what you’re doing, but just doing your best. Since that time, I’ve slowly started to open up to getting professional help. I dream of a pure bright bouncy sound and I feel that with each album, I get closer to that. I think it’s important to keep yourself curious and not close up. I never want to be closed — that feels like creative suicide.
And how do you feel you’ve grown as a songwriter throughout the years?
Just being more aware of who I am, what my purpose might be, and also understanding that all those years of jumping around and being crazy means nothing outside of offering some people a blip of joy here and there. I realize now that I want my songs to be wildly vulnerable. I want to say who I am and what I’m thinking — even if it makes people uncomfortable. I think privacy is overrated and truth and honesty underplayed.
We know it’s been some time, but how did you feel when The Drums became a solo gig?
It felt like a door opened. It started my journey of self discovery. I spent a lot of time alone. I mean a lot! I was so used to trying to keep everyone in the band happy, that I really forgot about myself. I was insecure and wanted their approval — and I was willing to do almost anything to get their approval. I’m a very different human now. I do what I want and I love myself. I approve of myself. When they left, I was handed power — or maybe I should say the power that was always inside me started to stir.
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And how did you adjust to it?
Therapy, soul-searching, being curious, staying open and spending time with people who loved me. Also, with the exception of a handful of fans, no one seemed to notice. I’m playing in front of bigger audiences than I ever have, around the world. I’m not sure that would have happened if I wasn’t able to heal, grow, and then thrive.
How would you describe Brutalism and what makes it different from abysmal thoughts?
It’s my most honest album, but delivered without a lot of flowery wording. I think my lyrics on Abysmal Thoughts were honest and often sad, but I was putting word-flowers around all of the lyrics then. With Brutalism, I wanted to lyrics to brutal. Just very simple. I am sad. I don’t want to be alone. I am scared of all the people in the world. Maybe I can find peace. All those words are very straight forward. That idea excited me. I think this time we put the creative flowers all over the music. It’s a little more ornate in it’s instrumentation.
What was your general headspace while making Brutalism this new album?
I had been really tormented by a relationship that I had invested so much into. I was trying to find a balance between letting myself grieve the loss of the relationship and also to find my own footing and walk towards something better. I guess some would say those two things are one and the same. But beyond that, I think the real focus of the album was the idea of introspection. I started to look to myself for healing and growth — not other people.
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What do you want people to take from listening to your music?
At this point, I’m just really grateful that people are still listening and I guess my wish is that people would not just listen, but they would stop, listen, and connect to what I am saying, and then ultimately themselves. It’s OK to be sad or scared or lonely or confused. You are not alone.
When we listened to your lyrics, there is a bit of humour in it. Do you remember the first time you inserted humour in your work and recognised the power it had?
I don’t really know if it was ever a conscious decision. I just kinda say how I’m feeling and if you were to ask any of my friends, I often insert humor into my everyday conversations. My therapist tells me that sometimes I laugh when I am saying really painful things about my life and so I think it’s a way for me to cope a little with how hard life can be.
Your songs are also often sad/deep lyrics with upbeat sound, do you think that’s what gets people hooked?
Everyone likes art for their own reasons, but yeah, I guess you could say that there are a lot of people who want to dance in their sadness and somehow we all find joy that way.
Do you have a favourite song you’ve ever written?
No, I don’t really have favorites — with anything. I think deciding on favorites is a way to risk closing yourself off from something new , interesting, or better. I just try and stay transient.
Are you excited to come to Malaysia? What can we expect from your show?
I am quite excited. I will be performing songs from every release and we will play almost all of the hits. It’s going to be an emotional dance party.
The Drums will be performing at the #UnlimitedGrovesFestival closing party on Sunday, 24 November. Get your tickets here.